Stephen Dunn

Issue #
January 31, 2017

Sea Level

Down from the mountains of Appalachia
and the highs of new love
I’ve come across the extended monotonies
of interstates, back to where
scrub pines stand small at sea level.
There’s the house I left for good
(if forever can ever be good),
and there’s the Great Egg Harbor river,
which widens here, and everywhere
the visages of ghosts appear
and disappear. I’ve come to visit
the friends who’ve stayed
casualty’s course – the dearest ones,
who somehow have learned to live
amid the messiness of allegiances,
the turns and half turns of whom now
to console, whom to embrace, and when.
I pull into their driveway, wanting
to tell them how it feels to have —
for the first time — an undivided heart,
a sudden purity of motive,
but when I begin to speak I realize
I don’t. I say it anyway, won’t take it
back. When their outside cat wants in,
they let him in. Then he wants out.
They accommodate. That cat
is almost as lucky as I. No mountains
here, I can see the afternoon sun
on the horizon hanging on,
about to dip and be gone. Their yard
is a dusty orange. I love the truth,
I swear I do.

Originally published in Lines of Defense (W.W. Norton, 2014)

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